Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday Fictions: The Cogs

Another longer one (relatively speaking). This one is about the machinery behind the workings of the universe, which is controlled by a little old man. I have had this story in my head since about the age of 10, and I have tried writing it again and again, once as a poem, once as a full scale book. I think this is the best version although the start of this could do with much improvement. But stick with it, it gets better!

The Cogs

He liked to leave for work and sit in the park behind the nightclub for an hour or so as nature quietly put itself to sleep under the semi-cover of twilight.
He hated working at the club, all the jangling noise and the sly undignified coupling, and then the thought that after he'd chucked them out a number would stumble to the park and vomit and fuck the night away in confused staggered circles.

The park, his park, which as he sat here now was peaceful and innocent was large and hemmed in on three sides by hedges, trees and a number of false boundaries and edges, giving way to anonymous corners and shady corridors of secret foliage. The outskirts of the park seemed to Tim like the outer edges of a maze, except there was no slowly discovering the inner sanctum - the private place - through perseverance and care. Night after night the club spilled those people out into the very core and they fell and leered their way out, aiming to get as lost as possible in some secret nook.

He was lying comfortably on his back in the grass as the summer evening slipped away. A rustle of leaves roused him from his almost-sleep and he sat up to see a man running away from him. The man was tall, dressed unobtrusively in some sort of green cloth. He didn't altogether stand out but as Tim looked at him he did realise that he was surprised by his appearance. His shaggy tufts of white hair over his shoulders, his tall slightly solicitous stance, stooping and running forward in an ungainly rush.  Tim thought, irrelevantly, of Alice, in her garden of childhood, being disturbed by the white rabbit running in a panicky faltering step, he imagined, just as this man was.

Tim stood up - ten minutes until his shift started.
"Oi, hang on. Wait!" He called after the disappearing man. "You dropped something."
The loping green shape disappeared behind a hedge. Tim followed him, clutching the object.

Tim's immediate thought as he turned the corner was that they were doing some sort of construction work in this part of the park for there were platforms and ladders everywhere. But immediately this thought gave way to the awe of the impossible. This was no scaffolding. The ladders were actually spiral steps going up and up around on an invisible wall. They went higher than the eye could see, twisting upwards to infinity like the eye of a tornado. And there were hundreds of separate stair cases in front of him, a seemingly neverending circle of them.

He stepped forward to touch the wall against which they were built but he simply stepped through them as though they weren't really there, into a second layer of stairs - again resting on an invisible sky blue wall.

After the fourth concentric layer of infinite ladders he came across a clearing. He could see the grass and the trees and the world but it was almost transparent, practically unreal against this open-air chamber of unimaginable contraptions.

Everything in this place, everything that he had seen was organic. The stairs were made of living wood, no hewn timber here. There was a circular oblivion of cogs, each smaller than the last, each perfectly sculpted in bark. There were smooth birched pulleys and grinding cracked trunk levers. Vines hung like ropes everywhere and mossy nets held balls of light, softly glowing amongst the greens. And there, in one corner, like the terrifying peasant moulding his iron in Anna Karenina was the man Tim had been chasing. He was crouching over something, intent and muttering.

"Hi, I think you dropped something."
"Wait a moment" he answered without turning around. The man tucked his white hair behind his ears, lent forward and was blinded by a brilliant silver light. It passed through him and up, up above the staircases. Tim watched the light ascend until it settled in the sky. The moon was out.

"Now, what can I do for you?" He turned around, his face aglow still.
"I think you dropped..." Tim reached out his hand and saw he was holding a primative walkie talke. "What is this place?"
"It's... well, its behind the scenes."
"Behind what sccenes?"
"You go on a carousel, you don't expect the horses to go round on their own do you? This is where we turn the earth round, and the stars and the sun and - as you just saw - the moon."
"But that's crazy." He faltered. "We are on the edge of the park, how can this be here as well?"
The tall man shrugged, "it's magic."
"Magic?" with the best snort of derision he could manage under the circumstances.

The stranger got up from his knees and sighed "oh, you're one of them. Put it this way, its a metaphor. You need metaphors, this is one of them. A metaphor for the inner workings of the universe."
"Why have I never seen this before?"
"Because you are a human - you shouldn't be here. And yet you are, because you are holding something that only exists here."
"The walkie talkie?"
"And who do you speak to on it?"
"The boss. He tells me what weather he fancies each day, how angry the seas are. And sometimes, like today he has to remind me when it is time to wake up the moon."
"You mean... God?"
He shrugged again "if you think that God exists and that he exists solely within a metaphor, To me he's just the boss."

"And that was the moon I just saw?"
"It's shy. When you open the box you have to coax it out, look," he pointed to the moon which was starting to brighten against the darkening sky, a rich yellow colour like a Victorian illumination.
"Do you see? Every day I coax it out, every day it flies through my face and look."
Tim looked up and recognised the old familiar face of the man in the moon.
"And that's your face?"
"The impression of it, yes."
"Doesn't it hurt it?"
He laughed, "its the moon".
"Could you do that with the sun as well?"
"No need, the sun needs no coaxing. Plus it would probably blind you."

There was so much to discover, even if - as he suspected - he was dreaming, he still wanted to know. But he didn't know what to ask.
"Where does the moon stay when its not up there?" The man stepped to one side and showed him the boxes.

What beautiful, ornate otherworldly objects these sun and moon boxes were! Like the grandest of human vessels, holding the rarest of religious relics in the best cathedral in the world. Except that these were not gaudy, but muted gold and silver respectively, looking natural despite the inner glowing of the most fantastically intricate workmanship, he so wanted to touch them but something in the man's posture stopped him.

"This is where the sun and moon stay. The stars, as you have seen, are held in nets and winched up in one go.. I used to send them up individually, but there are so many that I often missed one and confused the astronomers. So he created this pulley system for me."
"So you do all this just for us? You are our slave?"
"It's a metaphor - that's what I do,"

It was Tim's turn to shrug, this figurative talk was beyond him. But the plan - The Plan - was already germinating in his mind, unbidden.
"Do you never want to just mess with our minds? You could wake up the sun in the middle of the night and watch us all freak out."
"The machinery would be broken, cause and effect would become unlinked. We are here, alongside and co-existing with physics. If I were to do that... well..."
"And yet you influence it? Your face is on the moon."
"Oh yes, we are real. Look, does this not seem real to you?"

"Show me around. I would like to see more."
"No, its time for you to be going.I have work to do and you shouldn't be here."
"No, you must go."
"How do I get out?"
"You came because you were holding a part of the behind sccenes. Go back and you will return to your world, and once you give me the walkie talkie you will have no more connection to us. You will live your life in the centre, and you will have a great secret. That will have to be enough for you."
"Will I see you again?"
"Only my effects. When I get some time I like to get out and see what I've done in the human world, but I'll avoid you from now on. I have the whole world to wander in, my stairs stretch everywhere. I shall avoid this park - it is not wise to mix realities."

Tim gave back the walkie talkie and was escorted, meekly, back to the bush.
"Goodbye" the stranger held out his hand and shook Tim's.
And he was left alone. Ten minutes late for his shift.

It was just as he was walking to the bar that it happened. He scratched an itch on his arm and absentmindedly pulled off a hair that had attached itself to him. A long white hair. He was holding part of the metaphor! Did that... could that mean that he could return?

How Tim got through that evening's pageant of sordid banality he never knew. He got home at 2am as usual but he couldn't sleep. Hour after hour passed during which time the plan wormed its way into his brain, almost - he thought later - like a parasite. He went back the next day and checked. The hair worked! It was enough. He walked round the hedge into the other world. He didn't go as far as he had last time, he felt sure that as long as he had his magic hair as a passport he would be able to find the centre as easily as he had done before.

The plan was now formed. It was a good plan. He wasn't being mercenery, he just wanted enough money to be able to study and not to work in that awful place.  It took a long time to convince anyone that he wasn't crazy. Pepsi hadn't even replied. They wouldn't take his calls. But coke cola would. They signed a contract stating that if, in principle, he could advertise their brand for an entire day they would give him more money than he could ever dream of.

He was even philanthropic about it, he would take just enough to live comfortably and give the rest to charity. Once the other multinational corporations saw that it could really be done he'd sell a day to them too, and give it all back to the people. He would be a modern day Robin Hood on a global scale.

You will forgive me for not wanting to dwell on this part of my story. Indeed, I was tempted to stop the narrative here but that would be cowardly, and as I am writing this in case any future life survives I know I must tell them the whole truth.

The metaphor was ripped. It had separated from the real world causing a slowly gaping rent in the fabric of the physical law. By opening the box and letting the sun fly up through my suffocating plastic coca cola flag I had killed it.  At first no one else noticed. But I did - the sun blinked and flickered like a star. As the days wore on people began to comment. The sun wore a cratered look, shadowed. I thought I imagined I could see the haunted shape of those words, coca cola, sucking the life from the sun, the plastic clinging to it, killing it.

Then the physical laws started peeling away. Small things at first, possible but very unlikely incidents: coin flips coming up heads a hundred times in a row; a falling pencil landing perfectly on its end - we all had a story to tell.  The sun waned and died over the next year. It still showed up every day like a redundant old relative, but its power was gone, nothing grew. All cheer and life was departed. There will be no crops this year for us.
Had I not already plumbed the very depths of human despair on that first day, I would probably be approaching the stage about now, as I write this. We'd all heard the tales, people simply spontaneously dissolving or disintegrating into the air around them, the land disappearing beneath people's feet, hurricanes appearing from no where in the middle of a town, or even indoors, battering the inhabitants against the walls of their own houses.

Today, my mother floated up into the air, over the houses, getting smaller and smaller as she went from my view. Apart from the mid air thrashing and the screams that took a long time to die away in my ears, I was shocked by the ease with which she disappeared into the heavens, like gravity was some antiquated law that had long since been done away with. I feel numbed. And yet, this seems like the natural conclusion of a terrible decision I made.

Truth is, the moment when all life stopped for me, was moments after that first act. I stepped away, delighted, watching the sun as it started it ascent. There was a noise, I turned and saw him. He was speechless, bewildered. He held out the walkie talkie, openmouthed. I looked down as I took it from him, and when I looked back up he had disappeared. I held it up to my ear, with a trembling hand.

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